insider tips Santiago
City of contradiction
With deserts and lush plains, the Chilean capital is one hot spot
By deepika shetty
Lying between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Chile encompasses places as disparate as deserts which are rich in metals such as copper and the forever-freezing Patagonia.
Located in the centre is its capital Santiago, which sits on a wide, lush plain.
It is home to about six million people, a third of the country's population.
Dauno Totoro Taulis of Compania Teatrocinema, Chile, describes Santiago, where he lives, as a 'big contradiction'. 'It is surrounded by impressive mountain ranges which you can rarely see,' says the 46-year-old director, screenwriter and producer.
But when the sky is cloudless and the air is free of pollution in Santiago, one can see the 6,000m-high Andean peaks which ring the city.
His theatre company is presenting Sin Sangre, a play written as a movie, at the Singapore Arts Festival.
CITY OF MONUMENTS
The Plaze de la Constitucion has seen many historical events which have shaped Chile.
The statue of Eduardo Frei Montalva, the Chilean president from 1964 to 1970, stands here as a constant reminder that the price of peace is a high one.
PAST AND PRESENT GLORY
The Cementerio General is the final resting place of many famous political figures of Chile. Walking here, one is all too keenly aware of Chile's political turmoil from the 19th century to the recent past.
Another place to visit is the Palacio de La Moneda. Designed by Italian architect Joaquin Toesca and built between 1788 and 1805, it was originally the National Mint, hence its name, the Coin Palace.
It is now a heritage building and considered by many to be the finest colonial building in Latin America.
President Salvador Allende killed himself here in 1973 during the military coup led by General Pinochet.
The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino chronicles 4,500 years of pre-Colombian civilisation.
Make sure you see the Chinchorro mummies, which are supposed to be thousands of years older than their Egyptian counterparts.
Two other museums to see are the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, which hosts modern photography, design, sculpture and web art displays as well as the Museo de Artes Visuales, which contains fine modern Chilean engravings, sculptures, paintings and photography.
'Despite a very harsh political and social history, our city is very active from an artistic point of view. Some call Chile a country of poets but I like to call it a country for innovation in the arts,' says Taulis.
While in Santiago, one must soak in the artistic spirit by watching plays and operas and attending concerts. The cultural calendar is extremely vibrant and something of interest is always showing.
Santiago has been invaded by mega-shopping malls. For authentic handicraft, however, Taulis suggests driving about 50km in any direction out of Santiago.
Once out of the city, you will find craftspeople who draw inspiration from nature for their exquisite designs.
'There is no doubt you can find some of the most interesting shellfish in the world in Santiago and it's not only Chileans who say this,' says Taulis.
'We also have the most tender and abundant red meats here.'
At Caleta de Quintay, an authentic seafood meal with wine should not cost you more than US$20 (S$28.90) a person.
Sample classic Chilean fare at El Caramano (Purisima 257, Barrio Bellavista). It looks quite unpromising on the outside but the food is superb. A meal here will cost US$20 a person.
Chileans are heavy drinkers and there are many good watering holes in Santiago.
Try the local favourite Pisco-sour (between US$3 and US$5 for 1 litre), a clear liquor distilled from green grapes and blended with lemons, sugar and egg white.
Also, go for the terremoto, which means earthquake in Spanish. It is a potent mix of wine, ice cream and a Chilean cider called Chicha. It is available at any pub in Santiago for between US$3 and US$5 for a litre.